Jerusalem

A row of “succot” in Jerusalem

Sukkot has arrived! It’s a fall festival observed by our Jewish friends that begins 5 days after Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).  The command to observe Sukkot, or Tabernacles comes from Leviticus 23:34 – “…on the fifteenth day of this seven month is the Festival of Sukkot, seven days for the Lord.”  The celebrative nature of the week of Sukkot stands in stark contrast with the Days of Awe culminating with Yom Kippur.  This holiday, also called the Feast of the Harvest (Exodus 23:16) as well as the Festival of Ingathering (Chag Ha-Asif in Hebrew), is a season of unreserved joy.

Sukkot is essentially an historical and agricultural holiday.  Commemorating the 40 year of Sinai wanderings, the gathering of the land’s produce served to remind the Jewish community of God’s provision.  Living in temporary booth (called Sukkah) is done in remembrance of God’s protection and provision during the desert experience.  Great care goes into constructing a sukkah.  With the admonition to dwell in booths coming from Leviticus 23:42, it’s great fun for children who often sleep in it all week long.  In backyards, decks and patios all over Jerusalem, you will see these wood and straw structures set up.

Interesting, Peter gives reference to the building of the succah in the context of Christ’s transfiguration (most likely in the Mt. Hermon area up north).  It’s here that Peter states, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.  I will make three tabernacles (succot) here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah (Matthew 17:4).  Could it be that Peter was recalling what the prophet Zechariah had prophesied centuries before?  Peter knew well what Zechariah predicted, that when the Messiah comes to reign in His kingdom, all nations would be required to come and “celebrate the Feast of Booths.” (see Zech. 14:16-19).  Peter was ready for the dawning of the kingdom right there and then!

Citrus

4 “gifts” of succot

Additionally, as prescribed in Leviticus 23:40 – (“And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your GOd for seven days”), the Talmud tradition identifies these as the etrog (the fruit of the citron tree), the lulav (a ripe, green, closed front from a date palm tree, the hadass (boughs with leaves from the myrtle tree), and the aravah (branches with leaves from the willow tree).  Great care in inspecting these 4 items is taken, symbolic of offering God the very best gift as possible.

This fall holiday also occurs approximately when the falling of the first rains came, giving the context of the John 7 story where Jesus, in the midst of the Water Libation celebration of gathering water from the Siloam Pool, says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink (John 7:37).”  

The two days following Sukkot are also religious holidays.  While in Jerusalem as a student back in the 80s, experiencing one of these days, Simhat Torah (“Rejoicing of the Law”) is a rich experience.  Literally, the scroll of the Torah is carried around the synagogue with joyful celebration.  It’s a loud and boisterous encounter.

While the symbols of this Jewish festival of Sukkot are rich with biblical history and tradition, lessons are to be learned by believers in Yeshua. We, too, need to be reminded daily of God’s provision for us, including the provision of His salvation.  While God’s goodness is sometimes hidden by the trials and difficulties we encounter, His grace and strength to sustain us are, in the words of Jeremiah, “new every morning … great is His faithfulness.” (Lam 3:23).

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